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LENSTOPIA Part IV — The Top 5 Lenses for Your Micro Four Thirds Camera (+ a few others)

Data tells me that more than 100,000 of you caught my earlier Top 5 Nikon, Top 5 Canon & Top 5 Hasselblad lens posts, but it’s intuition that tells me what many of you are really wanting is today’s post on Micro 4/3 and mirrorless lenses. And yes, I rarely write about gear since there are entire websites dedicated to that pixel peeping universe… but my hope is that this makes the few times I do write about gear more helpful and impactful.

I play the field when it comes to gear so that I can shoot with the best / preferred gear in any situation. And is was really that mantra that got me into this micro 4/3 world. It started out that I was annoyed at dragging my pro Nikon kit around for street photography and personal snapshots, so I jumped on the small camera tip for those uses. Then I hauled a mirrorless kit to the 19,200ft summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and thru the streets of NYC, and.. and… Then I… well you get the picture — I use these things a lot. So between yours truly, my video guru Erik, and my gear editor/research pal Sohail we’ve logged real work to aggregate our thoughts on these lenses with the hope that you get at least 1 or 2 juicy takeaways. The images are Sohail’s since he is more of a gear “tester” — and wrangling thru millions of images to find one of my fav’s with each lens would kill me. So there you have it. And remember a “top anything” list always stirs debate — but that’s welcome and appreciated. Think we’re off by a lens or two? Let us know — and why. Enjoy…


Okay, we’re gonna be up-front about this with you guys: we cheated. If you shoot Micro Four Thirds, you already know that there are a gazillion lenses in this world — far more than most people realize. Throw in adapters and suddenly, that pool more than doubles in size as you can add on Canon and Nikon lenses to the mix as well. So, yeah, we’re cheating. Cause there’s no way I can do just 5 …

The Voigtlander Lenses.

The Voigtlander 17.5mm, 25mm, and 42.5mm f/0.95 lenses.

The Voigtlander 17.5mm, 25mm, and 42.5mm f/0.95 lenses.

We did say we were gonna cheat, right? Well, these three lenses are easily one of the finest lens sets on the Micro Four Thirds platform. Put together, they represent the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm equivalents on a full-frame sensor. and each one opens wide to an astounding f/0.95. No, that’s not a typo. f/0.95. Which means that most of the complaints about not being able to get good bokeh with MFT cameras are now officially put to rest.

Michio Fukuda, prepping for a shoot. Shot with the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95.

Michio Fukuda, prepping for a shoot. Shot with the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95.

These lenses are superb wide-open, razor sharp when you stop down a bit, and have one extremely neat feature that filmmakers will love. The 17.5mm (35mm equivalent) and the 42.5mm (85mm equivalent) both have aperture rings that can be “de-clicked” with a twist, so you can smoothly go from wide-open to closed-down while shooting video. The 25mm (50mm equivalent) was also recently updated to add the same feature, so if you’re looking to get that one, make sure you get the Mark II version.

While these are manual-focus lenses, they are surprisingly easy to focus, having a smooth, silky action to the focus ring that’s still firm enough to nail focus each time. Without a doubt, these are the best primes on the market for MFT cameras.

Details and specs on the Voigtlander 17.5mm Lens at here at Adorama
Details and specs on the Voigtlander 25mm Lens at here at Adorama
Details and specs on the Voigtlander 42.5mm Lens at here at Adorama

Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2

Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2

Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2

Coming in at a close second for our favorite primes on Micro Four Thirds is this new portrait lens from Panasonic. At f/1.2 it is only a hair “slower” than the Voigtlanders, but it adds two key features that the Voigts don’t have: Optical Image Stablization and Autofocus.

Images from this beauty are downright gorgeous; the rolloff from highlight to shadow is actually smoother than the Voigtlander 42.5mm and the image stabilization is good for a few stops. The cons: It’s 50% more expensive than the Voigtlander, AF is kinda pokey, and it’s much larger, physically. If you need the AF and OIS, however, this one’s still a bargain, as equivalent lenses for Canon and Nikon are even more expensive than this one.

Details and specs at here at Adorama

Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8

Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8

Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8

The Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 lens equates to a 24-70mm lens on full-frame cameras. As lenses go, this is the workhorse of the MFT platform, and it adds image stabilization to boot. Video shooters working with the Panasonic GH series love this lens; it’s often the first one they buy when moving the Micro Four Thirds platform.

This lens is one of Panasonic’s “X” series lenses, which means that it’s built to a higher standard that Panny’s other glass. Think of it as the equivalent of Canon’s “L” glass, and in keeping with that moniker, it’s dust- and splash-proof when paired with a GH4, for example.

Bixby Bridge. Shot with the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. © Sohail Mamdani

Bixby Bridge. Shot with the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. © Sohail Mamdani

Optically, this lens is a solid performer. There is some barrel distortion at 12mm, but that’s almost expected. There’s some vignetting at 12mm as well, but again, nothing a quick trip through Lightroom won’t compensate for – if you even notice it in day-to-day shots. It’s also pretty lightweight, despite the addition of image stabilization. If you’re looking for the one lens to buy for your Olympus or Panasonic camera, this would be it.

Details and specs at here at Adorama

Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

This is the long portrait lens everyone seems to be lusting after, and with good reason. The Oly 75mm fills in an important gap in the MFT lineup, giving users a razor-sharp long-portrait lens in the 150mm range. The additional focal length lets you compress perspective a bit more and is optically one of the best lenses in the MFT lineup. Looking at a shot taken with a Panasonic GH4 and this lens at 100%, the level of detail it delivers is yummy. Price-wise, it’s not cheap, but it’s not stratospheric either. It retails for $899.

Details and specs at here at Adorama

Metabones Speedbooster for Micro Four Thirds

Metabones Speedbooster

Metabones Speedbooster

Here’s where we cheat again. The Metabones Speedbooster isn’t a lens, per se, even though it does have an optical element in it. It’s actually an adapter that opens up pretty-much all of Nikon’s lenses to MFT users. From the oldest AiS lenses to modern “G” lenses, this adapter can take them all and bring them to your Oly or Panny. You won’t get autofocus, but you do get manual aperture control, even on the new “G” lenses that don’t have an aperture ring.

Now, if all it did was that, it’d be cool. Maybe not worth the $400 price tag, but still, pretty cool. Except it does more…it slices, it dices, it chops, it mops…. In addition to adapting the lens and making the aperture controllable from the adapter, it also widens the lens and adds up to one full stop of light gathering capability. HUH? Yes. One of the primary complaints from folks who dislike MFT is that there are few wide-angle lenses for it. Panasonic “solved” this problem by introducing a 7-14mm lens (14-28mm equivalent), but now we have yet another solution in the form of the Metabones speed booster. Now, you can take a Sigma 10-20mm lens and adapt it to your Olympus, and instead of it becoming the equivalent of a 20-40mm lens, it’s still a 14.2-28.4mm lens. Metabones changes the crop factor of that sensor from 2x to 1.42x, making that Sigma actually wider on your MFT body than it would be on, say, a D7100. Throw in the additional light-gathering capability and you have an adapter that’s more than worth the $400 price tag.

Details at Adorama


The Bonus Round

Every time you turn around, there seems to be a new mirrorless platform is emerging. Nikon and Canon finally both kicked off their mirrorless camera production, and Fuji, Leica, and Sony now have their own bodies in the mix. Soooo…. we decided to take a look at a few of lenses that stood out to us on these platforms. Enter…

Fuji 56mm f/1.2

Fuji 56mm f/1.2

Fuji: The XF56mm f/1.2

A new high-speed portrait lens for Fuji’s fledgling X-mount mirrorless cameras, this lens is perhaps one of the largest primes Fuji has made yet. Even wide-open, it’s plenty sharp, and has bokeh that will leave you bokeh nerds salivating. AF is a bit slow (argh), but that’s almost to be expected from this class of lens, I think.

Details and specs at here at Adorama

Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA

Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA

Sony Full-Frame E-mount: The 55m f/1.8 ZA lens

One of the few new lenses announced for the Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras such as the A7r and the A7s, the Zeiss-branded 55mm f/1.8 is an odd duck. Sohail used it on an A7r and reported reasonably favorable results for sharpness and general optical quality. That could, he also noted, just be the A7r’s 36MP sensor, however, and he did note that the AF was (again!) pretty slow on it. Again – that could just be the camera itself, as the FEs are a bit slow to focus in general.

Details and specs at here at Adorama


Boom! This concludes our Lenstopia series. It’s been a hoot going through all of these systems. We bleed for you. All the links to Adorama will give you tons of product detail, price, etc. If you want to rent instead of buy, our pals at www.borrowlenses.com also rent a bunch of these lenses and will ship them direct to you. Huge thanks to both those fantastic companies for getting us all the gear we don’t already own, and some we do. Both of these companies are really lovely.

Big shoutout to Sohail, Erik, and the other gear support crew who have generally put up with being told to go test all of these lenses with (pretty) good humor. If you’ve got lenses for the MFT or other mirrorless platforms you think we should’ve mentioned, please, sound off below. Otherwise, get out and make/take some damn pictures.

LENSTOPIA Part III – The Top 5 Lenses for Hasselblad Cameras

In case you haven’t been following the fun, this is the third installment in my Lenstopia series. We kicked off with Canon lenses a few months ago, then followed with Nikon’s top 5. In this edition we’ll be propping up the top 5 lenses for the Hasselblad system — a camera system I love for high-end, high-megapixel studio, fashion, and occasionally even outdoor photography. It’s the system I used to capture my Diver photo, which ended up appearing my Hasselblad Masters series among other places, even getting used as an album cover. (It’s also the system/shot Kai Man Wong from DigitalRev tried to replicate with a GoPro, which you can see here.) As with past Lenstopia posts, I’ve leaned on my gear gurus Erik and Sohail to help me assemble this list – and its a breath of fresh air to use some other people’s photos for this stuff instead of mine. So these are my top 5 H-system lenses. Contrary opinions are anticipated and totally welcome. You know where to leave ‘em.

Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 HC Auto

Taken with the Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2. © Faran Najafi

Taken with the Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2. © Faran Najafi

Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2

Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2

We start our lineup with something of a surprise entrant. The 100mm lens from Hasselblad is close in size to the smallest lens in the Hassy lineup (the 80mm f/2.8, mentioned below), but it’s got additional mojo. Why? For starters, at f/2.2, it’s the fastest lens — aperture-wise — in the Hasselblad lineup. Moreover, it is by our account the fastest-focusing lens in the lineup, and if you’ve ever picked up a medium-format rig, you know that these things aren’t known for speed. Every bit counts, and when you’re moving around a subject, firing shot after shot, that extra speed is worth it.

Pixel peepers will find nothing to complain about either; as this lens is more than plenty sharp and keeps up with even the 60mp backs Hassy has been churning out lately. Moreover, its small size and slight extra reach over the 80mm f/2.8 make it an ideal portrait lens.

Get more details, specs and price here from Adorama
Rent it from BorrowLenses

Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 HC Auto

Taken with the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8. © Faran Najafi

Taken with the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8. © Faran Najafi

Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8

Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8

Next up! If the venerable 50mm lens is the workhorse for DSLRs, then the 80mm plays that role for almost every medium format system — and to that extent — it’s this lense that Hasselblad actually sells it as a “kit” with the H5D-40 camera. It’s pretty close to the field of view of a 50mm lens on a full-frame sensor, too, and is most often the first lens purchase for photographers new to medium format. It’s a truly versatile lens, and it lends itself to a variety of uses, from portraiture to landscape to everything in-between.

It’s also about the smallest lens in the Hassy inventory, which makes it easy to handle. Though not as fast (in focus or aperture) as the 100mm, it’s perhaps the…um…”cheapest” modern Hasselblad lens, and there are a lot of photographers shooting medium format for whom the 80mm suffices for the overwhelming majority of shots. So consider that ;)

Get more details, specs and price here from Adorama
Rent it from BorrowLenses

Hasselblad 24mm f/4.8 HCD

Taken with the Hasselblad 24mm f/4.8. © Faran Najafi

Taken with the Hasselblad 24mm f/4.8. © Faran Najafi

Hasselblad 24mm f/4.8

Hasselblad 24mm f/4.8

There are a lot of folks who love using the Hassy system for landscapes and architectural work, and the 24mm is an absolute joy to use. Don’t let the focal length fool you – this lens has a 104-degree angle of view, which is slightly more than the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 16mm. Which means that it’s wide — really, really, wide. I have shot a ton of close up action (snowoboard) shots with this lens and it truly feels like a superwide on my dSLR setup.

A side-note about apertures in medium-format work. The f/4.8 maximum aperture of the 24mm might seem comically small to folks used to f/1.4 lenses, but bear in mind that it’s a lot harder to make lenses to cover the massive imaging plane of medium format cameras, so compromises have to be made somewhere. Besides, at f/2.8, as in the case of the 80mm, your Depth of Field is already super-thin; a medium-format lens opening up to f/1.4 wouldn’t just have a nearly nonexistent DoF, the lens itself would have to be much, much larger. And it’s already big enough. Trust me on this one.

Back to the 24mm, though: This is about as wide as lenses get; in fact, I can’t recall a lens that goes wider. There was a time when Zeiss made a 24mm lens for the older Hassy V system that had to be special-ordered, so just having a mass-produced 24mm lens is a real plus. Besides Hasselblad, I think I’m right in saying that only Leica makes a 24mm medium-format lens.

Get more details, specs and price here from Adorama
Rent it from BorrowLenses

Hasselblad 120mm f/4 Macro

Taken with the Hasselblad 120mm f/4.8. © Sohail Mamdani

Taken with the Hasselblad 120mm f/4.8. © Sohail Mamdani

Hasselblad 120mm f/4

Hasselblad 120mm f/4

Let’s go macro. As sharp lenses go, this macro lens is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was created specifically to work with high-megapixel sensors, and it does so with aplomb. It checks off all the marks and requirements needed for a solid macro performer: 1:1 magnification, excellent performance even at the closest focusing distance, and great sharpness even with the aperture wide open.

This lens also does double-duty as a dazzling portrait lens. With an angle of view similar to that of a 70mm lens on a 35mm sensor, this gets you closer to a classic portrait focal length that 35mm shooters are used to. In test shoots, the lens performed admirably, delivering a detailed and clean image, with excellent (but not overbearing) contrast and tonality.

Get details, specs and price here from Adorama
Rent it from BorrowLenses

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5

Ok, now let’s go LOOONNNNGGGGG. There’s really no other way to describe it – this lens is just plain FUN.

Due to the reverse-crop of the massive Hasselblad sensor, this lens equates to somewhere below the 200mm equivalent range on a 35mm system, so it’s not winning any awards for reach anytime soon. It is, however, the longest lens Hasselblad H system makes, and is actually pretty quick to focus too. If you haven’t figured it out already, all of these Hassy lenses are sharp, and this one’s no exception. True it’s not like DSLR or mirrorless cameras, where you can have the reach of a 600mm lens in a decent-sized backpack. But in this case, every additional millimeter of focal length is a very nice-to-have. In the case of the 300mm, Sohail took it out onto a balcony overlooking San Francisco for a quick cityscape image and it didn’t disappoint. Nicely compressed the scene, and the level of detail captured was simply outstanding.

Get details, specs and price here from Adorama
Borrow it from BorrowLenses

Sooooo that’s it for this edition of Lenstopia. In the next — and final — installment, we’ll take on the best lenses for the Micro-Four-Thirds and other mirrorless platforms.

Hasselblad 80mm, 100mm, and 24mm sample images thanks to Faran Najafi.

We are good pals with Adorama, where we buy our stuff. The sell damn near everything for photo and video, plus plus plus…

Gear for this review either owned by Chase or provided lovingly by friends at BorrowLenses.com – where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

Nikon Df Unboxing Video + Test Images + First Impressions While Actually Shooting Photos [gasp!]

When the Nikon Df arrived on the scene a couple months back, I tried to temper the hype (my own included) with a good dose of high expectations. Yes, it looked bad ass. Yes, it housed the same sensor as the D4. Yes, the optical viewfinder has 100% field of view.

But as a compact camera fiend and someone whose owned probably 50 cameras or more, I’m no pushover. So when Adorama shipped the Df to my door, I filmed the unboxing in old school 2006 internet style and wasted no time taking a test run (sparse couple images below).

To determine if the Df hit all the marks, let’s take a look back at those point by point…

From my original notes on appearance when the camera launched…. 1. Ergonomics. Roughly… “I like how all the dials/controls for shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO give you the option of being really hands on with setting your exposure. Shooting this way really increases my connection with what you’re creating with the camera. The Nikon DF looks like it’ll do a nice job of recreating (or perhaps simulating) that experience of “making” pictures like the cameras of old… That feel helps me be connecting to the art just a little bit more–i.e. slowing down a tad– than some of my other tools in my shed.”

ACTUAL THOUGHTS on ergonomics having shot with this thing. I’m NOT happy with ergonomics. The dials are pretty cool and give you the retro feel, but they’re in goofy places and hard-ish to reach. The aperature dial on the FACE of the body at your right finger is bizarre. The shutter sound is nice. The grip depth is in no man’s land…not flat enough to feel retro and not deep enough to hold it like a “new”camera. Feels “plastic-y”. Which is easy to see why… because the shell of the camera is entirely largely out of styled plastic. The lens? Plastic.

Now my notes on The size. The size was a huge surprise – as you can see from the video. WAY bigger than I thought from the original marketing materials. WAY bigger. In truth I feel like the product shots were actually aimed to trick me into thinking this would feel like a little body. It doesn’t. Yes, it’s smaller than a D4 or pro body – but bigger than I want for lots of circumstances…similar to a D7000 of D600 or any pro-sumer higher end body. When I’m on a pro gig I use/need the pro body to lean on, bang around, pound nails and otherwise be tough and sturdy. But in this class of camera, I really prefer the portability. So what gives here? I dunno. They made up a nice advertising story about “back to basics” with a “real camera” but they among other things, it’s really just styled like an old camera. Also, rumor has it they couldn’t keep the guts cool enough to shoot video because mechanically that stuff takes up space. That’s probably why it doesn’t shoot video – not based on any “purity”. Jury is out. I like the purity angle, but it’s 2014…

I guess my reaction above says it all. There are good surprises and there are bad surprises. I think we know where that shoe dropped re: size.


3. The sensor. This is this cameras very best feature, bar none. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this sensor. It has the same 16.2-megapixel sensor as Nikon’s pro-focused D4, which is the best still sensor of all time IMHO. You can basically shoot this thing in the dark – can it focus in the dark? Not all that well it turns out. But I still love that they packed that sensor in this body. The images are buttery but not overly so like Canon 5d sensors.


MY ORIGINAL NOTES ON….4. Focus. It better be decent. Nikons have historically kicked everyones ass in this department. This better not be a let down. I hope the focus is fast and accurate. (Speaking of fast…we know it’s not fast in frames per second department. 5 ‘n’ change. Not bad. But not fast. Who cares really – that’s not what this camera is for.) We really do want the focus to be fast, however, if it’s to stand out from it’s peers. BTW, how is the manual focus mode? It better kick ass. I’m curious to see if there are any features to assist with this. There’s a lot of marketing around this camera pimping its ability to use all the old non-AI lenses, but the cameras from that time had focusing screens built for manual focus. Without tools like focus peaking, a split image screen, or a microprism screen, shooting with manual focus lenses might just be a pain in the ass. Let’s hope they get it right.

ACTUAL THOUGHTS on FOCUS having shot with this thing. It didn’t measure up. It wasn’t fast. It was pretty accurate, but it wasn’t fast and accurate, which is what I really wanted. I’m sure that Nikon would respond…”but it has the same x and y as the z so it will do …blah”. It’s a great sensor, but the focus isn’t as fast as other cameras in the compact/mirrorless class. Which is sort of a travesty if you love Nikon still cameras given that that is a huge advantage for Nikon in nearly every other case.

MY ORIGINAL notes on this… 5. Pro shit. I’m excited to see how “professional” the camera can be. Can I pound nails with this thing? Is it heavy and durable? We use a ton of different cameras for video, but the D4 is my go-to camera for EVERY SINGLE commercial photo shoot we do. Could the DF could come along on our shoots as a good BTS rig? Even in our BTS stuff we expect pro quality That would be nice if this delivered. I will always have a couple D4 backups, but for the solo photographer, the DF could potentially save pro photographers some weight and coin if (and only if) it can produce professional results in a pinch.

I can’t tell if it has an alloy metal chassis, but its exterior is plastic-y. That isn’t pro. This isn’t a pro backup camera. The images look really nice, a great sensor but it falls short in other categories.

OVERALL
This is a good camera. Actually it’s a great camera. It will make nice pictures. It’s just not the camera I thought I was gonna get. If you LOVE Nikon you should buy this body. You will not be disappointed if you take what I’ve said here with a grain of salt. I know they are selling like hotcakes so the world really likes this camera. I’m just a tad hard on it. Like I said above, the plus on this baby is the D4 sensor in a much cheaper body. Beautiful dynamic range and looks great in low light. Another plus is that Nikon is at least watching what other manufacturers are doing with their products. The negatives are that they don’t know what their consumers want. Generally speaking we are not posers. This camera’s appearance it trying too hard. And it’s too damn big. But like I said – if you’re a photog who loves Nikon – you might be pleased as punch – so take my words here w a grain of salt.

Bounce on over to Adorama to see the Nikon Df HERE

IMAGES
I did have a short day around our cabin making pizza with my pal Jeff and then taking a quick walk on the beach to grab a few snapshots for this initial post to you guys… I intentionally shot slow moving, simple stuff where I thought this camera could perform. It worked well for that – but I knew the limits. The below are just very very minimally processed jpgs. You can see the magic simplicity with this sensor. It just WORKS. (check out the one image with the white house, the open, dark garage with the lightbulb on, during the day. Crazy subtle. THATS the kind of camera I want in my pocket. Portable.

It also does a nice job with a completely flat scene on the grey beach on a grey day shooting photos of grey stuff. Again, quality sensor. Focus? it was a pain to shoot inside and nail the focus shooting at F2.2 etc. But overall you can tell this camera works. If you can take the gimmicky styling it’ll do you right. If you can’t, then you’ll need a different sword of choice.

ChaseJarvis_NikonDf_0203

ChaseJarvis_NikonDf_0173

ChaseJarvis_NikonDf_0220


Nikon Df camera in silver

Nikon Df camera from rear

Nikon Df camera side view

Bounce on over to Adorama to see the Nikon Df details HERE

LENSTOPIA – The 5 Top Lenses For Your Camera, Part I: Canon

So you just dropped an entire month’s pay on a super nice camera body. Ok. Take a breath. That was a big jump, and we want you making smart moves going forward. Yes, the lens is important. And yes, you can spend 10x what you just spent on a body on good glass. But before you go cashing in that 401k to buy one of each (dear god don’t), soak in the knowledge below. We shoot almost EVERY camera brand for one thing or another. Nikon for stills. Canon dSLR for video. Hasselblad for high end studio / fashion, etc etc. So my video guru Erik, yours truly, and my gear editor pal Sohail decided to put together a little series of blog posts. Over the next weeks we will break down the top lenses from several manufacturers, with an eye on application. If you know what kind of photography you want to do [or are already doing], there’s a great lens or two for you.
—-

“Which lens should I buy?” is a question I get just about as often as “which camera should I buy?”, and in both cases, I respond with the same two words: “It depends.”

Yet despite that rote answer, there are a few standouts from each major manufacturers that can be cited as their “top” lens. We’ve had the (somewhat dubious) privilege of using pretty much all of them, and we’re going to present the five best lenses for each platform we use on a frequent basis. This is a four-part series, and we’ll be publishing them in the following order:

  1. Canon
  2. Nikon
  3. Hasselblad
  4. Mirrorless cameras, including Micro 4/3, Sony E-mount, and Fuji X-mount.
That said, we’re starting today with Canon – our default dSLR video rig but you can consider the below advice for stills too.

Canon

100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

This is perhaps my favorite single lens of all time. When the folks over at DPReview did a review of this lens, this was the first sentence of their conclusion:

Just occasionally a lens turns up which delivers such implausibly good results in our studio tests that I have to go back and repeat everything, double checking all settings to make sure I haven’t done something wrong.

This lens really is that good. You start with a hybrid Image Stabilization system that compensates for horizontal and vertical shifts as well as lens direction, then throw in an 9-bladed rounded iris that makes for dope bokeh. Add optics that give you the some of the most razor-sharp images you can imagine, and you have a knockout combination.

And if you’re looking for a good portrait lens at the same time as a solid Macro offering, look no further; the 100 L Macro makes for an tidy portrait lens as well.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Image from a work in progress series of still lifes. Shot with a 5D Mark III and a 100mm f/2.8L Macro. © Sohail Mamdani

Image from a work in progress series of still lifes. Shot with a 5D Mark III and a 100mm f/2.8L Macro. © Sohail Mamdani

85mm f/1.2L USM

Canon 85mm f/1.2L

Canon 85mm f/1.2L

The “Magic Canonball” [sic] as it’s come to be known, is perhaps one of the most popular portrait lenses, ever. If you’ve got the coin to drop on it, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L has some of the creamiest bokeh we’ve seen. It’s also one of the largest 85mm lenses outside of the Zeiss or Canon Cine versions. That front element even makes the posers look like pros.

Sohail once wrote of this lens, “You could shoot a portrait in front of a dumpster and as long as you shot it at f/1.2 or f/1.4, all you’re going to see is some soft, blurry shapes in the background that give no indication that you’re in that nasty alley behind your local convenience store.” That’s completely true, but be aware of one thing: I’ve often gotten a subject’s eyelashes in perfect focus, while their irises are soft. Be aware.

Then why would you buy an f/1.2 lens? Because, to quote my homie Zack Arias, “The optics in faster lenses are ‘typically’ much better than in the slower lenses. f13 can still yield a better image from a pro fast lens than a slow kit lens. Not all lenses are equal once you get past f8.”

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Canon 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II

Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II

Tilt-shift lenses are strange ducks, but they are, without a doubt, some of the coolest lenses to play with. I used to shoot action sports with them in the early 2000′s and it would blow the minds of art directors and editors everywhere. Get to know them well and you’ll find yourself using them for all kinds of things you didn’t know you could pull off with them. (But don’t overuse them or you’ll be “that guy/gal”

That said, it’s not the Canon 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II’s tilt-shift functionality that we love this lens for (though have used that extensively). We dig it because it is one of the sharpest 24mm optics that Canon puts out. And that makes it a go-to landscape lens on the Canon platform as well. It’s fun. Even wide-open, the lens is tack-sharp. Close the aperture down a bit and you’ll kill the tiny bit of purple fringing in your stars overhead, and sharpen up that image even more. Then use the shift functionality to ensure against converging lines and viola! You’ve got a killer combo in your hands.

One last thing to keep in mind here – this is a manual-focus lens, as most tilt-shift lenses are. Bad eyesight? Get glasses or pass on this sucker.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Taken with a 5D Mark II and 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II lens

Taken with a 5D Mark II and 24mm f/3.5 TS-E II lens

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II

While it was certainly a workhorse, the original Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 was getting long in the tooth, and enjoyed a love-hate relationship with many a photographer. On the one hand, it was the ideal mid-range zoom, had a fast aperture, and was the first lens most photographers, pro and aspiring, bought. On the other hand, it suffered from less-than-stellar optics (compared to the current crop of lenses from Canon) and was notoriously soft in the corners. When Canon announced the new version of the 24-70, the first thing that hit most folks was sticker shock. The lens retailed for a groan-inducing $2300 (street price), far more than its original counterpart. Worse, there was no image stabilization included, despite the high price. Add to that the fact that Tamron had just introduced a 24-70 f/2.8 with Vibration Compensation for about half the price, and the photographic community was ready throw rotten tomatoes at Canon’s money-grubbing tactics.

After the fervor settled down and folks started to realize that the optics on this new lens weren’t “pretty good” they were “Superb, almost flawless -DPreview.” This was born out by even the simplest of tests – shooting an Edmunds resolution chart with the old and new models side-by-side. People began to rave about the build quality, the flare resistance, the quick and accurate focusing, and sure enough, Canon turned what could’ve been a liability into a new legend.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Canon 600mm f/4 II

Got about $13,000 lying around? That’s how much this baby from Canon is going to set you back (though of course, you could rent it for a lot less).

But for those needing a long, fast lens (wildlife photographers, for example), this is about as good as it gets in the Canon lineup. Pair it with a 1Dx and you’ve got what is easily one of the finest long lens combos we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. It’s a good 3 lbs lighter than the Mark I version of this lens, which honestly does make a good bit of difference when you’re lugging this down a rough path to get to that perfect vantage point. Moreover, Canon has improved the autofocus speed and accuracy on this lens. On tests with the 1Dx and the 600mm Mark II, Sohail shot about six or seven bursts of between 8 to 17 shots each, and each time, I’d have no more than one shot out of focus. For someone who photographs birds more as an amateur passion, getting this sort of accuracy is nothing short of remarkable.

This is, no doubt, a specialty lens, and requires a few accessories to go with it, such as a sturdy tripod, a gimbal head, and a fast camera at the small end. But get all those in place, and the first time you fill your frame with a swooping bird as it comes in for a landing, or a tiny hummingbird hovering in mid-air, and you’ll find that it’s well worth the cost and hassle.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Great Egret touchdown. Shot with a 1Dx and a Canon 600mm f/4 II

Great Egret touchdown. Shot with a 1Dx and a Canon 600mm f/4 II

That’s it for this edition of Lenstopia. In the next installment, we’ll take on the best Nikon has to offer.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

A Hot Minute Hands-on Review of the Sony A7r

The field of affordable mirrorless cameras is widening, even as the gulf in quality between said cameras and DSLRs narrows. I’ve gone so far as to call them DSLR-killers in the past. A little tongue in cheek there, but wrapped in a nice dose of optimism. On the whole these rigs are lighter, more compact and pack a decent punch. They’re definitely the bomb for for street photographers and the kick the shit out of any point-and-miss er…point and shoot that is…without a doubt.

To that end, the not-yet-released Sony A7r [or Alpha 7r] and A7 magically fell into my hands last week prompting a brief but meaningful walk/shooting/note-taking session with my crew, the results of which I’m sharing here. Given that this little beauty doesn’t hit the market until December, what you’re about to read is one of the first true hands-on reviews. I can’t go into hand wringing detail about everything w the camera (save that for others), but this is rather my first quick impression. (And seeing as the bulk of my time was spent with the A7r, I’ve limited my notes below to that model.)

FIRST, THE UPSIDE:

1) The Tactile. The ergonomics are great and the grip is the perfect size. I carried it the whole time without a neck strap and never worried about it slipping out of my hands. Camera ergonomics are vastly under-appreciated IMHO – really important. I’m a stickler for it and this camera delivers on it.

2) Presence. The A7 is light, but not cheap feeling. It feels similar to the Olympus E-M5 in weight and dial placement, but easier to grip with better spacing in the button layout. Good lines.

3) Design. I dig the placement of the exposure compensation wheel. I could make adjustments easily and intuitively without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.

4) Focus. Focusing speed is acceptable but nowhere near groundbreaking. Norton’s E-M5 and Erik’s Panasonic GX7 a both seem to focus faster (this might be different on the A7 vs the A7r).

5) Image quality. Image quality is really nice, though we were only able to view and edit the Jpegs since Lightroom doesn’t support the A7′s raw files yet and only had the camera for a qwik spin. (also we can’t share our images since the camera is technically a pre-production model…sorry) The shallow depth of field on the 2.8 lens is dreamy. Getting a nice shallow depth of field in a camera this compact feels like cheating.

6) Looks. Aesthetically, the camera is very inconspicuous. In a short walk in a part, people stopped and commented about Norton’s silver retro looking Olympus E-M5, but nobody asked about the A7r. The murdered out black finish on the A7/A7r is stealthy for sure. This will be a nice nod for the street photographer in you, but will work against you if you’re one of those kooks who is trying to be …er…”impressive” with gear.

NITPICKS ON THE NEGATIVE:

1) Shutter. I’m not crazy about the shutter button. This is super nit-picky, but it’s sorta gummy. It takes a little too much pressure to fire the shutter. It feels to me like it’s likely to cause unnecessary camera shake, which could hurt photos taken with a slow shutter speed. AND…speaking of the shutter…it’s damn noisy. This camera is not sneaky.

2) Battery. The battery life is wack. I only had one, and I had the feeling right away that it wouldn’t last. I had to keep turning the camera off between shots, and that’s no fun. Hopefully Sony addresses this quick-like.

4) Boot-time. The start-up time overly slow. I seriously thought the camera might have had issues when I first turned it on. (this might be because the camera I was using might be a preproduction model???)

OVERALL SIDE OF THE EQUATION:

Anybody thinking about getting into the world of mirrorless cameras, or even mid-range DSLR’s, should take the Sony A7r and A7 into serious consideration. If you by chance have a NEX-7 then this upgrade is really really desirable since your glass can migrate with you.

Both models are available for pre-order here and here.

Scroll down for a more detailed look at the Sony A7r:

What I’ve Learned in The Trenches– MY 5 Step Guide to Street + Snapshot Photography

A couple years ago, you may recall, during a month-long artist-in-residency at the Ace Hotel in NYC I took the opportunity to celebrate the snapshot — quintessential street photography — and I called the exhibit Dasein: Invitation to Hang. ['Dasein' is a German word used by philosophers to refer to raw human experience or the fundamental mode of "being there." I found that when applied to photography, the snapshot was the ultimate photographic expression of us simply, authentically being in the world / caught on film. ] The exhibit featured an ever-changing wall of snapshots, both my own and selections chosen from nearly 15,000 submissions across the globe.

At the core of the work what I found was my own sense of street photography – regardless of whether it was on the street, on a train, or backstage with the band. Point being that street photograhy – the art of the snapshot if you will – is about the moment. It’s about choosing to take the photograph. It’s about mood, and –quite often–it is about talking to strangers.

I was reflecting on that project this morning and wanted to share a bullet point list of things I learned that could be easily applied to anyone’s work.

chase jarvis dasein1. The Law vs Respect. When it comes to street photography, there is the law, and then there is etiquette. The laws permit us to take pictures of anyone in a public space [for which thousands of paparazzi thank the gods every day], even taking pictures of private property from a public space is fair game. But let’s face it. Do you really want to be ‘that guy’? Etiquette is an entirely different matter. And note that while it’s ok to take the photo – USING or displaying the photo later is an entirely different manner protected by laws, permissions, likeness, etc. But that’s another post.

2. Discrete but not creepy. While some photographers live by the “If you see a good picture, you take it” rule. I do not because I’ve decided that my role in life is to evoke the messages and emotions and thoughts that I want to evoke – not to simply document. This isn’t for everyone, but here’s how it translates into my work… I am discrete but not creepy. I often connect with my subjects. Your style will vary. Aside from the rare times I shoot candidly, my general mode of being is two fold. I either (a) quietly and quickly snap the photo; or (b) I say “hey, can I take your picture?!” with the camera pressed to my face OR simply a wave to get someone’s attention with the camera snugged up to my face. I click the shutter when they look up.

3. It’s all about the aftermath. Nine times outta ten when using the above techniques, my snapshot subjects either don’t know I’ve shot a photo or don’t care. But here’s the critical point IMHO – if they do care, or even if they lock on to you, take proactive action. Introduce yourself and say thank you. It’s almost entirely about the interaction AFTER you shoot the photo. And this is where non experienced photographers blow it. Sure it takes vision to get the shot – no questions there. But in keeping the shot and keeping your integrity as an artist operating in a grey space…. It’s 10% being before 80% after…. People will either warm up or blow you off and it’s your job to read them. How do you get good at reading this? Experience. You will quickly be able to read if someone is aloof and doesn’t care that you’ve snapped their photo, or if you’ve ticked somebody off. Moreover, connecting with subjects after the fact is often an amazingly insightful part of the process. I’ve heard amazing stories, been inspired, been awakened, and felt more human after talking with unknown photo subjects on hundreds of occasions.

4. When things go south. Rarely, after engaging with someone in number 3 above, the unknowing subject will react negatively. In that case, cut your losses. I always prefer to be a good human than to be unpleasant. On just a handful of occasions in my entire career (I can think of 2 in this sitting…) has anyone asked me to delete a snapshot of them. In this case – despite it being my right to have ‘taken’ the photo (NOTE – ok to ‘take’ the photo in a public space but not ok to later USE or display the photo by law without proper permissions…), I have–during both those rare occasions–deleted it with a smile and a shrug as I showed it to them.

chase jarvis gasmask bong nyc dasein

5. Some recommended don’ts…
–I don’t photograph the homeless or downtrodden without their permission or even better only after a long conversation where it becomes clear that a photograph is on the up-and-up.
–I don’t photograph young kids in the street that I don’t know without first connecting (eyes, nod, hand wave, etc) with their parent or guardian. Just don’t do it. Otherwise, you’re creepy.
–Don’t try to use snapshots commercially. Ever. You will get caught and you will be breaking laws.
–Don’t take your gigantic camera on the streets. It will wreck your chances at getting good imagery. If a Dslr is all you have, take a small, short lens and that’s it. Even better, consider being discrete with a point and shoot – or my favorite – the new mirrorless camera platforms. There are lots of reviews and stories about those here on my blog. Feel free to search for them.

Above all, IMHO use common sense and common courtesy as your guide. Sure – get sneeky, get gangster, get ‘the shot’, but you can do it without being a nut job. Plenty of other photographers have done amazing projects in the streets that are in your face, against people’s will and without warrant. My suggestion? Leave that to somebody else and focus on the pictures that you want to make through respect and hard work. You’ll thank me later.

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you've got em.]

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you've got em.]

The Fuji X100s Review: Brutally Simple & Highly Effective (Even If You Didn’t Want to Admit It)

I was onto the rush of mirrorless cameras pretty early – mostly from manufacturers sharing with me what was “coming soon”, but I admit that I didn’t really “get” it, until I started receiving early versions, prototypes and demos from the marketing folks at all your fav manufactures. Only then did I truly understand the punch that these little cameras pack – because they’re good. I loved the concept, but hated the tiny sensors and the poor performance. Well, those days are gone, and now these cameras are really good. I’ve highlighted mirrorless a bunch in the past, but those were just my initial impressions… In this post, I tapped my tech homie Sohail to sound off on a proper camera review for the Fuji X100s. He’s tackled the Nikon D7100 in a past review that received high marks from this community, so we’re gonna keep it rolling. The dominant view is that this camera is pretty hot. So hot in fact it’s a wonder Fuji kept the name X100 name because it’s so amped up from it’s predecessors. You’ll find a better autofocus, improved manual focus, and a number of other upgrades that suggest Fuji is intent on keeping the pace. But alas, I’ll let Sohail take it from here.

Thanks, Chase.

The Fuji X100s has been my main carry-around camera for almost a month now, during which time I’ve used it for a number of shoots, ranging from a test with studio lights to simply pointing it out of my car window and hitting the shutter release. Truth is, it’s brutally simple and highly effective.

During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to put this little thing through its paces, and I’ve come out quite impressed. Fuji has come a very, very long way from the days when it produced cheap point-and-shoot cameras from the consumer crowd. Chase’s pal, photographer and educator Zack Arias sees Fuji gunning for the Leica crown, although that may be a little far reaching. But certainly Fuji are giving them a run for their money at a fraction of the cost.

In the beginning

Fuji’s first attempt at a large-sensor compact was the X100, a camera that received glowing reviews that were punctuated by incessant complaints about the camera’s quirks. Slow autofocus, an almost unusable manual focus system, and other quirks made it a difficult camera to wield. Despite those quirks, it gained a die-hard following of photographers who loved the images coming out of it.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

Fuji followed the X100 up with the X-Pro and X-E1, both of which shared some of the quirks of the X100, but have upgraded sensors that, to be perfectly honest, are flat-out amazing. Those sensors did away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter most digital cameras come with these days and they featured a new array of the pixels on the sensor that randomizes the location of the red, green, and blue pixels.

The result is that images are sharper since there’s no low-pass filter in front of the sensor, and moiré is minimized thanks to the random array. Fuji says this arrangement is inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide film which is a nice bit of marketing-speak. To their credit, whatever they’ve done to this sensor was definitely cool. When the X-Pro1 was released, it had the best low-light performance of any crop-sensor camera I’d ever seen. That camera had incredibly clean images at ISO 3200, and the noise present at that and at higher ISOs was gorgeous and film-like.

Fast-forward to today

When they came up with the X100s, Fuji basically took the sensor and graphics processor from the X-Pro1, vastly — by an order of magnitude, actually — improved the autofocus, added in a few key features to aid in manual focusing, changed a few other things and put out an update that is far, far more usable and powerful than its predecessor.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

Where the X100 was a quirky camera that took a number of firmware updates to get to a point where it was reasonably reliable, the X100s was a well-oiled machine right out of the box. The difference between versions is surprisingly vast, and that’s to Fuji’s credit as well.

Appearance and Form Factor

Looked at from a distance, the X100s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. It has the same look and feel, right down to its dimpled faux leather wrapping.

Close up, there are a few things that set it apart, and one of those things is a long-requested feature: The “Q” button.

This button is a carryover from the X-Pro1, and pops up a quick menu screen where you can adjust a number of things, from ISO to Dynamic Range, to film emulation choice, and more. X100 users have been pretty envious of this feature, and speaking as one, I’m really glad to have it.

There are other small improvements, too. The button to activate the Auto Focus point selector mode has now been moved from the left of the LCD to the 4-way rocker/scroll wheel, making it easier to shoot one-handed with this camera. Also, the knob to set exposure compensation is a lot stiffer, and therefore harder to move accidentally.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

Handling

The X100 takes a very manual/mechanical approach to shooting. Aperture, shutter speed, focus mode, viewfinder mode, and exposure compensation are all adjusted via hardware dials and switches. In this regard, the retro design draws heavily from film rangefinders of the past, and that’s a really, really good thing.

In my hands, the X100s (and this is true for the X100 as well) has the feel of a rangefinder. It’s solidly-built; no squeaks or creaks in the manufacturing are evident. The dials have been somewhat reinforced and are therefore (thankfully) stiffer than those on the X100, and the slightly changed layout of the buttons makes it easier to get to the some of the most important functions one-handed.

The X100s, like its predecessor, is also equipped with a threaded shutter release that takes an old plunger-style release cable. This is both good and bad — good, because those releases are ridiculously cheap, and bad because that precludes using the X100s for time-lapse photography (if anyone knows of electronic cable releases for the X100s, please sound off in the comments).

One slightly major quibble I have is about the location of the screw for tripod plates. Mounting a tripod plate on the X100s still partially blocks the battery and SD card slot door, which is a pain. I have to take the tripod plate off every time I need to dump the card, which is, to say the least, not ideal.

Performance

Autofocus

The one bit of performance information that everyone is looking for with this camera is this: How fast is the autofocus?

The thing that everyone who got the X100 complained about so darn much was the terrible autofocus performance of that camera. Sure, it took great pictures, but only if the autofocus worked. Which it didn’t more often than it did. And forget about achieving focus in dark areas; it would hunt and hunt for several seconds before it would just fail to lock on.

Worse was the fact that manual focus on the X100 was simply unusable. The flat, pancake nature of of the 23mm f/2 lens meant that the focusing right was pretty thin to begin with. Manually focusing that lens would involve spinning that ring through what seemed like an eternity of revolutions before you could get it in the ballpark of your subject.

Subsequent firmware updates improved focusing on the X100 a lot, to where it’s actually usable now. Manual focusing is still a pain, but at least the AF is far better than it was at launch.

So how good is the AF on the X100s? Much, much, much better than the X100’s AF. On par with most mirorless/Compact System Cameras out there, in fact. The only one that I’d confidently say is way better is the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s AF, which is just plain scary-fast.

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

Even better is the fact that the X100s will achieve focus in some pretty dark conditions. I haven’t yet found a reasonable situation where it wouldn’t lock on at all, though sometimes it does take a second try in some really dark and low-contrast areas.

Manual focusing is a pleasure as well. The X100s includes two focus-assist modes for manual focusing, a “peaking” mode, which outlines areas in focus with a white highlight, as well as a digital “split image” mode, which is reminiscent of the old split-image focusing screens used in film SLRs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time doing manual focus with the X100s, as the AF was dead-on for me almost all the time. In the few minutes I spent in manual focus, I noticed two things: the focus ring has a much shorter throw (i.e., you don’t have to spin it as much) and the focus peaking highlights could be a bit stronger. Sometimes, they’re a hair too subtle.

Image Quality

The X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 is an awesome bit of technology, and in combination with the X100s’ gorgeous 23mm f/2 lens, produces some impressive shots with deep detail.

Flesh tones and colors are rendered beautifully, with no nasty color casts or any other such problems. The camera does have a tendency to over-expose images, so I normally shoot with the exposure compensation dialed in at about −1/3 to −2/3rd’s of a stop. This tends to still keep shadow detail while preventing highlights from blowing out.

The camera just kills it when it comes to high-ISO performance. Like the X-Pro1, this thing will give you more-than-usable shots at ISO 6400 (see below). Noise reduction for in-camera JPEGs can be a bit overdone, but the RAW files hold a surprising amount of detail at ISO 6400. I’m confident enough of the X100s’ capability in that regard that my camera is set to Auto ISO with an upper limit of 6400 all the time.

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Dynamic range is also better than I expected. I was, in a crunch, able to push my exposure by as much as 3 stops to retrieve detail in shadows. There was some loss of detail as well as some luminance noise when I did that, but it was more than I had thought I’d get out of a compact camera.

Highlights retained detail and color pretty well too; I think there’s a latitude of about 3–4 stops in the highlights. In the image below, the sky totally blown out (as shown by the red clipping warning) till I did a global adjustment of about −2 stops to pull some blue out of it; at −4, the blue is a nice, deep color that I can bring back selectively with a brush later on.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

All said and done, there’s really nothing to complain about with this camera’s image quality. I don’t even feel like quibbling over its tendency towards overexposure, as most of that highlight detail is retrievable in post.

Conclusion

I’m off to Hawaii in June for a vacation, and the X100s is the only camera I’m taking with me. With all the gear at my disposal, this is the only thing I feel like I need. I will, no doubt, occasionally wish for a telephoto lens, or a super-wide, or some other bit of kit, but despite that, this is the camera I’m taking.

What the X100s excels at doing is helping me distill the process and experience of photography down to its barest essentials. For someone used to lugging three bags worth of gear to every other shoot, moving and shooting with the Fuji is like shedding several pounds of dead weight; it’s just you, the camera, and your subject. I won’t be shucking my DSLR and assortment of lenses, mind you, but I also won’t be carrying them around with me all the time.

The X100s is all the camera I need for everyday shooting.

PS from Chase: There’s a gallery of cityscape shots Sohail has taken with his X100s on his 500px page. Some are straight out-of-camera B&W others were treated with VSCO Film.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

The Secrets of Surf Photography —- Chris Burkard Shares His Craft

ChaseJarvis_ChrisBurkard_Surf_AmyRollo-01

At 26 years old, Chris Burkard is living the dream of traveling around the world to shoot surfers in exotic places.  He’s been recognized for his work with some prestigious awards including a first place spot in the Red Bull Illume competition.  His images are a complementary mix of being right in the action and being removed from it.  At times the subject is a tiny speck in the grander landscape.  Other times the camera is enveloped in a wave.  I caught up with Chris to get some insight to what he’s doing and how he got there.

Could you describe your process? How do you end up with the striking images we see here?

CB: I guess my process has a lot to do with luck and preparation. I like to research and prepare as much as possible so when those unique unexpected moments happen, I’m ready. I also like to keep in perspective the work and the passion. To never let the assignment become more important than my photographic voice. My process seems to always involve a little bit of introspection. Am I just taking pictures to take pictures?  Or are these actually moments that mean something?
ChaseJarvis_ChrisBurkard_Surf_AmyRollo-01

How did you get your start in photography? How did you get to where you are now?

CB: I started taking photographs around the age of 19. I did a lot of art in high school and it seemed like a natural departure from painting, pen or ink. Photography for me was the perfect medium for expression. It was ideal for how I wanted to experience and document because I could take my art into any situation. The mountains, the ocean, social settings.

When I started getting serious about photography, I would shoot surfing locally, just friends. But my passion was for landscapes.  I would spend summers exploring the desert southwest and looking for a chance to expand my photographic eye. I sought out internships and shadowing opportunities and from there. Things just evolved and I’d like to think even though I have a distinct style now, that I’m still seeking to change and grow in my art.

ChaseJarvis_ChrisBurkard_Surf_AmyRollo-01

Do you have other influences outside of surfing and action sports? Whose work inspires you?

CB: So much of my work is based in action sports and outdoor lifestyle, but in fact the majority of my inspiration comes from landscape photographers and portrait work. I’m really drawn toward the work of William Albert Allard, Henri Cartier Bresson, and Edward S Curtis. I have such a strong admiration for people that really connected with there subject, whether a landscape or a culture. I have always aimed to have the same kind of connection with my subject. In the surf world and action sports realm I also have a lot of influences. Ron Stoner, Craig Peterson, Jimmy Chin, Ted Grambeau.

Ultimately I think I am the most inlfluenced by nature and the outdoors.

chasejarvis_chrisBurkard

You clearly have influences outside of the action sport world. Do you also work outside of the surf world?

CB: Yes.  I shoot a lot of outdoor lifestyle, music, wine, automobile. I love to branch out and shoot everything, and I love the challenge of new assignments. I’m usually pretty specific and only work with brands or companies that I feel are going to help promote my personal aesthetic or natural light and editorial style photography.

People always want to know about the gear we use – so I gotta ask – what’s in the bag?

CB: Nowadays mostly using Nikon, and occasionally some sony nex mirrorless cams.

70-200 and 16-35mm are in my usual lens kit. Also a 50mm and 400mm telephoto. And always a fisheye for work in the water.

ChaseJarvis_ChrisBurkard_Surf_AmyRollo-01

Where do you like to haul all that gear? What’s your favorite location?

CB: I love Iceland. I have been 7 times and already planning my 8th trip. Can’t wait. The place has a really unique type of light. It’s almost tangible. Like surreal beauty that seems to fill you. For me it’s the type of place I could move to someday.

Where do you want to go that you haven’t been?
CB: I would love to spend some time in Alaska. Really excited to explore some of the islands off the coast, especially Kodiak. For me, the more remote, the better. That’s where the adventure lies.

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Advice for aspiring surf photogs?

CB: My advice would be always aim to create a style that is recognizable. Something the viewer will know is your image without seeing the photo credit. I think it’s so important these days, especially with how many people are out shooting surf and action sports images to create work that is meant to last. Dont be so focused on logos or how good the action is, but more on the emotion in the image.

Anything else?

CB: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out more of Chris’s work here.

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Wireless Cameras Are The Future — What’s in it for You?

The Samsung Galaxy Camera includes Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS and can run Android apps

I’ve been banging on the doors, windows, and faces of camera manufacturers for years about this one having long found value in the idea, “What good is a picture if you can’t share it?” It’s a simple concept that lots of us helped ignite in our culture via mobile devices. Instantly being able to share is assumed now. But… that our friends in the “real” camera world have been a little slow in adopting this concept is a massive understatement. So what is the state of that state really? What planet are they from? It’s worth taking a look at. As such, I’ve enlisted my pal Ben Pitt (who has authored some popular posts on the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D in recent weeks) to give us the technical breakdown on the latest and greatest. But even as you read this post that dives deep on which widget does what and how fast, remember, dont forget I’m still backing the idea that the best camera is the one that’s with you. Take it away Ben! -Chase

12 months ago, Wi-Fi was built into about half a dozen digital cameras. This year it’s everywhere – not just in high-concept cameras such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera but also in half the compact cameras announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It’s built into the Canon EOS 6D and Panasonic Lumix GH3, and is available as an optional upgrade for Nikon’s latest generation of SLRs (D3200, D5200, D7100, D600, D800, D4) and the Canon 5D Mark III and 1D X.

So is Wi-Fi going to change our photographic lives, or is it just another over-hyped innovation to help camera manufacturers shift more units? Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.

Remote control

Wi-Fi allows remote control of the camera from an Android or iOS app – most of these cameras have accompanying apps for both platforms. The camera creates a wireless network for the smartphone or tablet to join. In some cases this can be cumbersome to manage, but it needn’t be after the first time they’ve been paired.

The EOS Remote Android app for the Canon 6D includes touchscreen spot focus and a VGA live preview.

The app can then show a live preview feed and provide a remote shutter button and some control over photographic settings. In many cases this includes a touchscreen spot focus function. The quality of the live preview tends to be pretty good. Most run at 640×480 pixels, which is equivalent to a 921,000-dot LCD screen, but with the added benefit of a larger screen size. There’s a certain amount of latency in the live view feed, and also in the response of the shutter release, but in my experience it’s usually well under a second.

These remote shooting functions are impressive but, personally, I doubt I’d use them much. They’re perfect for group portraits when you want to include yourself in the photo – something I do perhaps once or twice a year. Knowing my luck it’s bound to stop working at exactly that moment, giving my assembled friends and family yet another chance to revel in my humiliating defeat at the hands of technology.

The Lumix Link app for the GH3 running on an iPad

I’d hoped that remote shooting would be useful for photographing birds and other wildlife in my garden. It turns out that birds are just as nervous of a tripod as they are of a person (the shot on the right was with a long lens through the window). I guess that birds would get used to the tripod if it was left in place for a few weeks, but would they be scared off by the appearance of a camera on the tripod? If anyone has experience of this, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Remote shooting has other uses, such as when the camera is positioned in hard-to-reach places. This is probably more useful for video than photography, though. So far I haven’t seen or heard of a camera that can stream video wirelessly while recording it – unless you count the Parrot AR Drone app-controlled aerial drones.

Using a high-resolution tablet as a wireless video monitor would be extremely useful for video production, regardless of the camera position. 802.11n should be fast enough for compressed 1080p video. I’m hopeful that this will appear before too long in mirrorless and SLR cameras.

The Canon EOS 6D also supports wireless PC tethering, with a live view feed and comprehensive control in the accompanying PC software. This might be a killer feature for people currently struggling with (or put off by) tethered shooting over short USB cables. Performance and latency seemed to be pretty good in my tests with the 6D.

Wireless transfers

Transfers are technically simpler than remote control, but probably more useful. In most cases, the same Android and iOS apps used for remote shooting can also browse the camera’s card contents and request photos and videos for transfer. In some cases, photos can be selected for transfer on the camera too.

Picking a photo to upload from the Panasonic SZ9 compact camera.

The remote shooting modes usually incorporate automatic transfers as soon as the picture is taken. However, the ability to shoot with the camera’s controls and transfer photos automatically is surprisingly rare. This is something that Eye-Fi cards have been able to do for years.

I can see two potential uses for wireless transfers to an app. One is for instant online sharing. Mobile phones have changed the way casual snaps are shared – people want to be able to upload within seconds to taking a photo. With a Wi-Fi camera, you’re not limited to using your phone’s built-in camera.

For serious photographers, the ability to review a photo on a high-resolution tablet within seconds of taking it is a big draw. It’s useful for checking focus, and for spotting subtle problems with the scene that would be hard to see on a camera’s 3in screen. The Canon EOS 6D’s app also lets you rate photos, with the data synced back to the camera’s SD card.

I’m looking forward to seeing cameras that allow photos to be transferred to an app at the touch of a button on the camera, directly after taking a photo. I don’t necessarily want to transfer every photo, but when I do, it should be a quick operation that doesn’t distract me from the creative process.

Most Wi-Fi cameras can also transfer photos and videos directly to online sharing services – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on. I’m not sure how useful this is, though. It’ll only work when you’re in range of a home network or public hotspot, and entering social network passwords using camera controls is pretty fiddly. It seems easier to send the photo or video to a smartphone first.

Wireless transfers to a computer or network storage hold more appeal. Large transfers are slow, but it’s great to be able to simply switch the camera on and press a couple of buttons to start copying.

Other tricks

Syncing GPS data to the Canon PowerShot S110 from the CameraWindow app.

GPS is increasingly common on digital cameras, but a few models (Canon S110, Fujijilm F800EXR, the latest Panasonic compacts, among others) provide GPS by proxy via the Wi-Fi link. This uses a smartphone app to keep a log of the location over a given period. Later, this log is cross-referenced against the capture time of photos in the camera to add GPS coordinates to their EXIF data. It’s not as neat as integrated GPS but it’s cheaper to implement. It’s certainly better than no GPS at all.

The Sony NEX-6 and NEX-5R can be expanded with downloadable apps. This lets you add functions such as time-lapse photography and advanced bracketing modes, and cost a few dollars each. However, I can’t help feeling that this is less about getting more features and more about Sony looking for new revenue streams. Sony has always lead the way for innovative shooting modes, but they used to be included as standard rather than optional extras.

The potential for third-party app development is interesting, but I can’t see many developers choosing to spend their time coding for a closed system such as NEX at the expense of Android and iOS platforms. The natural home for third-party camera apps is on Android cameras such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera.

Looking forward

So that’s where we’re at so far. These Wi-Fi functions are still in their infancy, and I’m yet to test a Wi-Fi camera where everything has worked smoothly. Some implementations are a little cumbersome, particularly when it comes to configuring network settings. Pretty much every camera I’ve tested has had one or two features that I’ve not been able to get working as advertised. Hopefully these kinks will be ironed out.

For me, the most useful functions – wireless monitoring while recording video, and one-touch, on-demand photo transfers – have yet to materialise. Even so, Wi-Fi cameras show lots of promise, not just for casual users but also for enthusiasts and professionals. They won’t revolutionise digital photography, but if they help to keep dedicated cameras relevant in this age of instant sharing, that’s no bad thing.

But that’s enough about what I think. Are you tempted by any of the features described above? Are you already using them? Is there’s anything else on your wireless wish list that no one’s thought of yet? Let us know below.

Canon EOS 6D Hands-ON — Canon Giveth, Canon Taketh Away

Canon EOS 6DIt seems our exploratory swim in the waters of full-frame DSLRs is far from complete. With the ink from his recent reviews of the D600 and the mirrorless Panasonic GH3 still drying, I asked my homie Ben Pitt to put the Canon EOS 6D between his microscope plates and share his findings here. As you’d expect with a lower-priced semi-pro camera, the EOS 6D is a mixed-bag. It’s light and boasts integrated GPS + Wi-Fi, but a couple notable omissions are enough to yank this camera from the “obvious choice” list. Scrutinizing consumers have come to expect a catch with the $2,000 price point products. Does the EOS 6D have a big one? I’ll let Ben take it from here. – Chase

A year ago, a full-frame camera meant a professional camera. They were simply too expensive for the majority of amateur photography enthusiasts. But with the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D, the landscape has changed.

Last month I wrote about the Nikon D600, and whether the inevitable compromises it makes compared to the pricier D800 are worth living with. I concluded that – for me at least – they were. Given the choice of a D800 or a D600 plus an extra $800 to spend on glass (or more realistically, household bills), I’d happily go for the latter.

This month, it’s time to ask the same question about the Canon EOS 6D.

There are no nasty surprises regarding image quality. The 6D’s 20-megapixel full-frame sensor is new, but quality is hard to distinguish from the EOS 5D Mark III’s 22.3-megapixel output. Details are marginally lower, but so too are noise levels. Incidentally, detail and noise levels are very similar to the D600, too. Canon and Nikon each has its distinctive colour processing but there’s nothing much to separate these three cameras’ image quality on an objective basis.

1/320s, f/5.6, ISO 400, 400mm (click to enlarge)

1/60s, f/5, ISO 100, 32mm

1/125s, f/2.2, ISO 320, 50mm (click to enlarge)

1/200s, f/2.2, ISO 12800, 50mm (click to enlarge)

Their video modes are more varied. The 6D’s videos lag a little behind the D600′s for detail levels, and it lacks a headphone out to monitor the microphone input. However, unlike the D600, its aperture setting can be adjusted while recording. Overall, I’d class that as a draw, but both come a distant second to the Panasonic GH3 for video.

As with the D600, the 6D takes its design cues from a cropped-sensor sibling – in this case, the EOS 60D. The 6D is only fractionally larger and heavier than the 60D, although the lack of an integrated flash and articulated screen possibly account for the minimal weight gain. The layout of buttons is very similar, with a generous number of single-function buttons but a few less than on the 5D Mark III. It’s great to have the AF-ON button included – something Nikon chose to omit from the D600. The lack of direct access to white balance settings is disappointing, though.

Some people will lament the single SDXC slot, which compares unfavourably to the D600’s dual SDXC and the 5D Mark III’s SDXC and CompactFlash slots. I can live with a single slot, but it seems that this particular one hampers performance. Testing with an SDHC card rated at 94MB/s, burst mode set off at 4.2fps but slowed to 2.3fps after 26 frames. When I tested the 5D Mark III (which uses the same DIGIC 5+ processor), I found that the 6fps burst rate lasted indefinitely with a 90MB/s CompactFlash card but slowed to 2fps after 28 shots with a 94MB/s SDHC card.

Still, 4.2fps for 26 frames isn’t so bad. If you’re looking for a fast camera for sports or wildlife photography, you should be more wary of the 6D’s autofocus sensor.

As with the Nikon D600, its points are bunched towards the centre of the frame – it’s as if Canon has taken an APS-C SLR’s autofocus sensor and plonked it into a full-frame camera. But whereas the D600 has 39 AF points, nine of which are cross-type, the 6D has a much simpler 11-point autofocus with just a single cross-type point in the centre. That rules out the automatic subject tracking that’s available in the D600 and 5D Mark III – there simply aren’t enough AF points to track moving subjects. It’s also a pretty big drawback for portrait work, where you want to be able to focus on the eye without having to focus and recompose the shot. Then again, the 5D Mark II had a nine-point autofocus system, and it sold by the bucket load.

So far, the D600 is coming out on top for features, but the 6D’s trump card is integrated Wi-Fi and GPS. GPS worked without a hitch in my tests. The GPS radio stays on when the camera is switched off, so it needn’t spend ages recalculating its position when you want to take a photo. An icon on the passive LCD screen reminds you to switch it off (via the menu) at the end of the day – shame there’s no hardware switch.

The Wi-Fi implementation is one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen. With the help of the EOS Remote app for iOS and Android, the camera can be remotely controlled from a smartphone or tablet, complete with live view, touchscreen control over the autofocus point and full access to exposure settings. Image browsing is well catered for too, with responsive full-screen previews, detailed EXIF data and the ability to apply star ratings. There’s no option to transfer photos to the app at the full 20-megapixel resolution, though.

The EOS Remote app running on an iPad

The 6D also supports wireless tethering to a PC or Mac, which worked flawlessly once I’d jumped through various hoops to set it up. There are various other features, such as uploads to Facebook and YouTube over a local network and the ability to stream slideshows to a Smart TV via DLNA.

Overall, the EOS 6D is a heady mix. Image quality is outstanding. Video capture has its limitations but picture quality is certainly flattering. Its controls and performance are decent enough, the autofocus is disappointing and the wireless features are spot on. That might sound like a fair compromise considering the breakthrough price, but it’s very much a case of taking the rough with the smooth. To me, the D600 feels more balanced.

As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Are 11 autofocus points enough, or has Canon misjudged its market here? Bear in mind that Canon wants the 6D to appeal to people who are ready to move up from a cropped-sensor SLR – it’s not designed for potential 5D Mark III owners who are looking to save some cash. Are the Wi-Fi and GPS must-have features, tempting extras or a waste of space? And putting any allegiances to one side, which company do you feel has made the best cut-price full-frame camera?

Hands-On Camera Review with the Panasonic GH3 — [Side By Side Comparos + Can it Beat a $250 eBay Bargain?]

Given the response and discussion around last week’s post on the D600, I invited pal Ben Pitt back to share another hands on review of a camera that has been competing for eyeballs: the GH3. Since the introduction of the Lumix DMC-GH1 back in 2009, the GH-series’ has been gobbling up mindshare for photographers looking for some great technology in a tightly sized and affordable package. I’m a big ol’ fan of the mirrorless category of cameras of late…seems that all the manufacturers are making massive leaps to give us astounding quality in small packages (I’m currently playing with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and loving it…and did a run-down on the mirrorless category — Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Fuji — a few weeks ago here). But now, let’s let Ben do a deep dive on the Panasonic GH3 below. Take it away… -Chase

Thanks Chase. Panasonic has long been the maverick outsider of digital cameras – consumers have long been not quite sure where it fits into their lexicon – but with the GH3 it looks like it’s lining up to join the establishment. Reviewers have been falling over each other to heap praise on this camera, and it’s easy to see why.

The GH3 is bristling with the right sockets, buttons, levers and dials, an articulated screen and a large, high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Autofocus is startlingly quick, and being able to place the autofocus point anywhere in the frame via the touchscreen is a major advantage that conventional SLRs can’t match. There’s 4fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus, rising to 5.6fps with fixed focus, and a large buffer for sustained quick-fire operation. A PC sync socket and optional battery grip demonstrate that this is a reasonably serious photographer’s tool.

Image quality is a big improvement over previous Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, and broadly on a par with the Nikon D7000 for noise and details. However, it’s the video mode that really shines. Its videos are incredibly sharp, and there’s less moiré interference than from Canon and Nikon’s SLRs. They can’t match the GH3′s smooth video autofocus, either. With full exposure control while recording, bit rates up to 72Mbit/s and frame rates up to 60p (50p in Europe), nothing else at this price comes close for video.

Nothing, that is, except its predecessor, the GH2. The GH3 makes big strides for photo quality and ergonomics, but a lot of reviewers have found that improvements in video quality compared to the GH2 are relatively subtle. That’s not a criticism of the GH3 but praise for the GH2, which has been a big hit among independent filmmakers.

I’ve been using the original GH1 since June 2009. I’ve reviewed a wide range of cameras since then, but I haven’t used anything that has tempted me to upgrade. Admittedly, the GH1 is showing its age for photo quality, particularly for noise levels. But for video, it’s very similar to the GH2 and more capable than anything else I’ve used.

However, I’ve recently been shooting with the GH3 (on loan from Panasonic), and I’m seriously tempted to upgrade. But then, the GH3 costs around $1,300 (€1,200, £1,200) and the GH1 is only fetching around $250 (€200, £170) on eBay.

That got me thinking… the GH1 is currently a phenomenal bargain for video producers. Glass tends to keep its value much longer than cameras, so are video producers who are considering the GH3 better off picking up a GH1 and spending the rest on lenses? And should I stop pining over the latest model and be content with what I’ve got?

Frustratingly, the answer isn’t as clear cut as I’d hoped.

In many of my tests, the GH1 and GH3′s videos were hard to tell apart. The GH3 had a slight advantage for sharpness and its colours were a little punchier, but there wasn’t much in it. Here’s a frame from each camera’s 1080p output, split into three to show the GH3, GH1 and Sony’s NEX-5N – another excellent camera for video, but clearly trailing here for sharpness and colour response (click the image to enlarge it and type F to expand to actual size).

 

Next, here’s the GH1 and GH3 again, this time set to minimum contrast in an attempt to capture as much dynamic range as possible. Both cameras excel for detail but neither of them have managed to capture anything in this over-exposed sky. Having said that, the GH1′s murky grey sky isn’t much to look at – I’d prefer to settle for the GH3′s bleached out white.

 

The GH1′s handling of skin tones has always bugged me, with a strange habit of vein-like bands of desaturated colours along the edge of highlighted areas. It’s pretty subtle, but having noticed it, I keep spotting it again and again. It’s just about visible in the example below, but there was no sign of it in the GH3′s output. Otherwise, there’s not much to choose between them here. If anything, the GH1′s colours are generally more flattering and noise is less pronounced.

 

The GH3 really starts to prove its worth in this high-contrast shot. The sky is well exposed in both cameras’ output but the GH3 has captured lots more detail in the gloomy foreground.

 

Boosting the shadows in editing software shows just how much more detail there is in the GH3′s output. There’s no contest.

 

Finally, here’s one more example, with the Nikon D600 thrown in for good measure. The D600 trails slightly for detail in the rushes at the bottom of the frame. However, the GH1′s lack of detail in the dark trees on the other side of the lake brings it to third place here. Then again, I wouldn’t consider the D600 for video because of its moiré problems, fixed aperture while recording and lousy video autofocus.

 

So what’s it to be? I think it’s clear that the GH3 is worth the extra for those who want the best. No other mirrorless or SLR camera can touch it for video quality. As for me, I think I’ll stick with the GH1 for now. It may struggle in high-contrast scenes but it still packs an incredible bang for its buck. And that new Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty tempting too.

You can buy the GH3 at B&H Photo here
You can rent the GH3 at Borrowlenses.com here

DSLR Killers — Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Best Mirrorless of Them All?

UPDATE: if you dig mirrorless cameras or want to find out why everybody else loves them, you’re in luck. creativeLIVE has courses on mirrorless cameras by the talented John Greengo. Go here to check it out, learn more, enroll, etc.
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I like to shoot with the newest, biggest, baddest DSLR as much as the next guy. And I’m lucky enough to do so on the regs for my commercial work; however, when it comes to my day-to-day shooting (when I’m not snapping with my…ahem…iPhone) I’m having fun with Olympus OM-D’s and E-P3′s. I’m blown away with the images these little beauties put out. There are a whole gaggle of new cameras in this category that beg a look. So I called on my camera review pal who has used most of what is out there, Sohail Mamdani, to do a breakdown of the latest cameras in this category. Read on for what might be best for you in this category -Chase

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of a new class of cameras. This class goes by many names – the Large Sensor Compact (LSC), the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compact (MILC), and Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) are a few of the labels that have been used to describe this generation of cameras, but most of them seem to fall short in one way or another. The collective refers to this category as “Mirrorless”, as that is the one thing they all have in common.

Today we’ll take a look at five cameras that are leading the charge in this category.

Olympus OM-D EM–5

The OM-D EM–5 from Olympus.

The OM-D EM–5 from Olympus.

Back in the film days, Olympus made a 35mm SLR camera called the OM–2. It was a neat little camera, and was pretty successful in its time. Looking at the OM-D, with its new Micro-Four-Thirds body from Olympus, it’s pretty clear that this little baby is of the same design pedigree as the OM–2. In fact, if you look at it from the front with a lens on, it’s not hard to imagine the OM-D as a film camera itself.

Flip it over, though, and the 3-inch OLED touch-capable screen dispels that notion completely. The OM-D may carry forward the retro look that Olympus pioneered for its digital cameras with the E-P1, when it brought back the venerable PEN moniker, but the insides are cutting-edge tech all the way.

DNG from Olympus OM-D, with Lightroom edits. © Sohail Mamdani

DNG from Olympus OM-D, with Lightroom edits. © Sohail Mamdani

Reviewers of the OM-D have been almost gushing about this little body – and with good reason. It seems to have breathed new life into a brand that’s been hit by scandal over the last several months. The image quality of the OM-D is superb, and I’ve taken to using this camera as my carry-round body with 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lenses from Panasonic. (Chase shoots this body with the 12mm fixed 2.0…) With the OM-D’s in-body image stablization, I’ve gotten steady shots at down to 1/6th of a second, and the details captured by this compact body are downright impressive.

From its fast autofocus (Olympus claims it has the world’s fastest AF system at the moment) to its impeccable low-light performance, the OM-D hits enough hot spots that some pros are switching to this diminutive body as their primary camera.

The Good: Fast Autofocus, excellent low-light performance, fantastic in-body 5-axis image stabilization.
The Bad: Not much. Continuous Autofocus tracking is a bit on the unreliable side sometimes.
Who it’s Ideal For: Outdoor enthusiasts and photojournalists. You can use Panasonic’s 12-35mm and 35-100mm lenses and have an effective 24-200mm range covered. And in a package that is much smaller and weighs much less than, say, a Canon 5D Mark III body with 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.
Buy it: $999 (Body only) from B&H Photo
Rent It: From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $44

Fuji XE–1/X-Pro1

The Fuji XE–1

The Fuji XE–1

Okay, this is really two cameras, but they’re such close cousins that you can go with either one.

Fuji began its foray into the mirrorless market with the highly-acclaimed (yet quirky) X100. This was a remarkable camera in many ways – it featured a large APS-C sensor, a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens, a leaf shutter system, and a fantastic retro design that was every bit as eye catching as the images it produced. Fuji eventually followed up that single-lens model with the X-Pro1, which, while suffering from many of the same quirks as its predecessor such as slow autofocus performance, was a sellout on launch.

The XE–1 is similarly back-ordered, and with good reason. It keeps the sensor of the X-Pro1, which has managed to wow many folks with its color and detail reproduction, but packages things into a smaller size. It ditches the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder found in the X-Pro1 in favor of an all-electronic viewfinder. Like the X-Pro1, the industrial design drips with retro finesse, and it maintains full compatibility with all of Fuji’s X-Mount lenses. There’s also a Leica lens adapter, so your manual focus Leica lenses will work with the XE–1 as well.

Fuji X-series of cameras definitely have some kind of special sauce in them. Fuji packs in a number of effects that emulate their classic film stocks like Velvia and Provia. Photographers who have worked with the X cameras, like Zack Arias, have been repeatedly blown away. Here’s what Zack had to say after taking a particularly striking image with his X-Pro1.

And I was sold. I’m in. I got it. It’s worth every effing rupee, peso, penny. I don’t care. I’m not in Bombay any more. I went somewhere else and once this light was gone I woke up with the X-Pro1 in my hands and yes. Ummm… maybe? No. Ummm… Yes. I zoomed in on this image to check focus. “Hot Damn.” It was one of the greatest personal moments of my professional life.

Honestly, if you can handle the X-series’ quirks, there is something pretty satisfying about the images coming from these cameras.

The Good: Fantastic image quality, cool retro design.
The Bad: Weird sensor design means RAW compatibility with Lightroom/Aperture is slow to arrive and doesn’t work as well.
Who it’s Ideal For: Portrait and landscape artists will love the high image quality, rich colors and the Fuji film profiles like Velvia and Provia baked into the JPEGs. Street photographers will like the retro rangefinder look and feel, which seem to put people more at east than a large DSLR and bazooka-sized lens.
Buy it: $1399 (X-Pro1 body only) or $999 (X-E1 body only) from B&H Photo
Rent it: The X-Pro1 From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $59

Sony NEX–6

The Sony NEX–6

The Sony NEX–6

Sony’s NEX series has been getting a lot of great press, and with darn good reason, too. The company has been making good on its promise to commit to the photography market, and its NEX compact cameras have been extremely well-received.

What’s remarkable about these Sony cameras is that Sony isn’t afraid to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. That leads, interestingly enough, to features being included in mid-range models like the NEX–6 that aren’t in the higher-end NEX–7. WiFi is now included in the NEX–6, so you can do things like view the images on the card in the camera on your smartphone.

You also have improved autofocus performance due to the inclusion of a hybrid system that uses both phase-detection and contrast-detection sensors. Most of the time, mirrorless cameras use only contrast-detection sensors, which are slower than the phase-detection sensors used in DSLRs. Low-light performance is also improved over the NEX–7, and to my surprise, is pretty awesome for a camera this size. I expect to see angry red, green and blue dots at ISO 3200, but instead, the noise that is there is more reminiscent of the big, fat grain you’d see in ISO 3200 film.

High-ISO (3200) image with the NEX-6. © Sohail Mamdani

High-ISO (3200) image with the NEX-6. © Sohail Mamdani

There is an entire ecosystem of adapters that allows for the use of Canon, Nikon, Sony Alpha-mount and other lenses on the NEX cameras(I’ve written more about that here). The stable of E-mount lenses is still growing, but is doing so rapidly.

What’s Good: Great image quality, low-light performance, small size.
What’s Bad: Needs more native E-Mount lenses.
Who it’s Ideal For: Pros looking for a small, compact shooter with performance to spare. Also, anyone shooting Sony’s DSLRs who wants to leverage their existing lenses via adapters on a smaller body.
Buy it: $848 (body only) from B&H Photo
Rent It: From BorrowLenses.com, starting at $50

Panasonic GX1

The Panasonic GX-1

The Panasonic GX-1

Panasonic is the other primary partner in the Micro-Four-Thirds standard (with Olympus), and its cameras have received excellent reviews as well, including DPReview.com’s Silver Award. The GX1, released last year, marked a departure from the single-model lineup of Panasonic’s Micro-Four-Thirds camera into two separate lines, the GF series and the GX series. The GF series was marketed more for beginners stepping up form a point-and-shoot, whereas the GX series was intended more for advanced amateurs or pros looking for a more pocketable camera.

There’s a lot to like about the GX–1. It’s smaller and lighter than many of its competitors, and has a touch-screen for added controls. One thing I found was that due to fact that you can do things in more than one way (physical control or touch-screen), you often find yourself hesitating and wondering if you should use the physical knobs and buttons or the touchscreen to accomplish a task. This kind of sorts itself out as you keep using the camera, and the touchscreen is useful for some tasks.

Where Panasonic really shines is in their lenses. The standards for most photographers are the 24–70mm, 70–200mm, 50mm, and perhaps a Macro in the 90–105mm range. Panasonic delivers soundly with a 12–35mm, 35–100mm and a Leica co-branded 45mm Macro, as well a 25mm f/1.4 lens. Because of the smaller sensor, you experience a crop factor of 2x, so the 12–35mm f/2.8 becomes a 24–70mm f/2.8, and so forth.

What’s even cooler is that the 12–35mm and 35–100mm zooms have optical image stabilization, which neither Canon nor Nikon have included in their 24–70 f/2.8 zooms yet. Moreover, Panasonic also offers a 7–14mm (14–28mm equivalent) f/4 zoom, which is particularly useful for landscape users.

And of course, since Panasonic is part of the Micro-Four-Thirds consortium, it can use MFT lenses from Olympus, Sigma, and other manufacturers.

What’s Good: Excellent lens selection, small, relatively cheap.
What’s Bad: Controls are cramped and a bit clumsy, not the most innovative industrial design.
Who it’s Ideal For: Beginners looking to step up to a camera with room to grow. Also, given the plethora of adapters for MFT cameras to adapt everything from recent Nikkor lenses to ancient M42-mount optics, it’s a nice step up to give that old glass a new lease on life.
Buy It: $449 (body only) from B&H Photo

Leica M9

Leica M9

Leica M9

If you’re surprised to see the Leica here, don’t be. People tend to forget that before the trend towards mirrorless cameras started, Leica was already there with their digital rangefinders. The legendary camera of legendary photographers, the overall design of the Leica M series hasn’t changed much since the film days, keeping an emphasis on classic elegance that has become the German company’s trademark and has inspired at least three of the models I mention here.

Leica DNG, treated in Silver Efex Pro 2. © Sohail Mamdani

Leica DNG, treated in Silver Efex Pro 2. © Sohail Mamdani

In the digital world, Leica has really scored with the M9. It’s a big step up from the M8 (and the new “M”, with no number after it, is apparently even better), and adds some interesting features like a first-rate bracketing option (though it feels weird to try and shoot HDR with a Leica) and better high-ISO performance. Here’s what I had to say about shooting with a Leica for a few weeks a while back.

Using a Leica distils the experience of shooting down its very core elements, and when you’re used to the photographic equivalent of driving a loaded Lexus LS with all the amenities, being dropped into the equivalent of a 1970′s-era Porsche 911 is a shock.

A pleasant shock in many ways, but a shock, nonetheless.

Leica’s lenses are another reason for its reputation. I keep using the word “legendary” here, and with good reason; these optics have some kind of magic that, in the right hands, deliver an image that is almost three-dimensional in nature.

Is it expensive? Yep. But if you can get your hands on one (rent one, if you can), it’s worth experiencing this little bit of history.

Leica recently refreshed their “M” series line, introducing the “M” (no numbers now) and the “M-E”. The new “M” camera sports a CMOS sensor in place of the old CCD and adds a number of features that bring the Leica series further in line with modern-day cameras. These features include 1080p video, Live-View, an optional EVF, and improved ISO performance.

Those looking to keep the spirit of the old bare-bones Leica alive will love the M-E. The M-E strips the camera down to its essentials – no video here, or Live-View, or EVF. You also have the old CCD sensor instead of the new CMOS, which is not a bad thing at all.

What’s Good: Built like a tank, fantastic image quality, remarkable glass.
What’s Bad: It’s a Leica. I’m not allowed to say anything bad about it (but if I were, I’d say the high-ISO performance isn’t good and the buffer is tiny).
Who it’s Ideal For: Besides Henri Cartier-Bresson? Well, surprisingly, a number of types of shooters. From street photographers (natch) to landscape and portrait artists, to travel photographers and photojournalists, the Leica can work for just about anyone looking for high-end optics, tank-like construction, and a camera with a deep and formidable history.
Buy it: $6400 (body only for the M9), $5450 (body only for the M-E), $7000 (body only for the new M)
Rent it: M9 from BorrowLenses.com, starting at $225

Conclusion

Mirrorless cameras are coming on strong, and they are rapidly gaining ground as people stop thinking that a great camera with a large sensor has to look like a DSLR. The image quality from cameras like the Leica, the Fuji and the Olympus are allowing the classic manufacturers to come back with a vengeance, while the newer kids on the block, like Sony and Panasonic, are putting out some incredible technology into the field of photography.

Will mirrorless cameras become the predominant cameras out there? I don’t know. There may be certain types of photography that these diminutive devices will always be unsuited for (sports photography comes to mind). But for many of us, mirrorless cameras may well become de rigeur for all kinds of everyday shooting. Just as the iPhone and other phone cameras are slowly replacing point-and-shoots for many uses, so too might the NEX–6 replace the D7000 for many uses. The cameras listed above are just the start; the product pipeline in this class promises to be even more exciting in the coming years.

 

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

Emerging Talent: Niki Feijen’s Interiors of Intrigue [and What Pro Photographers Need To Learn From Non-Pros]

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRolloI was first introduced to Niki Feijen’s work via Amy Rollo who helps me with the Best Photo Locations pieces on my blog. I saw his stuff and, naturally, poked around to learn more about him. Ironically, one of my favorite parts of Niki’s backstory is that he’s not a professional photographer. He has a day job, and photographs his passion – urban exploring. And then something occurred to me: while it may be unconventional thinking, I believe deeply that pro photographers have a lot to learn from those who are not professional. Remember when your next photo wasn’t an “assignment” for a “client”? There’s something healthy about his. The following is Amy’s interview with Niki. The simplicity in approach is eloquent and noteworthy IMHO. Enjoy…

Amy Rollo: Every one of Niki Feijen’s intriguing shots could be featured ANY Best Photo Locations list.  With Tim Burton-esque scenes, intrigue draws you into these realms, yet we’re all terrified of what we may find around the corner. He brings us on a tour of abandoned hospitals, mansions, and churches. At first glance many of his images seem filled with life, sunlight bouncing off of smooth surfaces. Upon closer inspection you notice the decay and rot in every corner.  ”Lonely” is certainly a word to describe some these settings, but that sense feels temporary.  Like the family who lives here just went to the movies, but they forgot where they lived and their stuff has been waiting a few decades for their return. Naturally, I had to ask Niki what exactly makes him tick…

Amy Rollo: I understand that you’re not a professional photographer. Do you want to become one?

Niki Feijen: Well to be honest, I don’t think that my kind of photography could work out to be a full time job. If I want to become a professional photographer and do this full time I will need to step away of doing just urbex [urban exploring] photography.  I will have to master other directions, too. I would have to take assignments and I think it would drive me further away from the whole urbex thing. Besides that, I have an awesome job which I love.  In the meantime I can fully practice my crazy hobby. I’m currently in progress of assembling and publishing my very own book. I do not think I have the time and opportunity to do that if it were a full time job.

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ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

Why is photography important to you?

Photography is a way to handle my urge to be creative. Since its a hobby I can do whatever I want. I have all the freedom in the world since I do not need to be here or there. I can make a crazy surrealistic shot or show the eeriness of an abandoned hospital. The tension and excitement of urban exploring is also a big fun factor. The rush you get when finding an entrance into a building that has been left behind for 20 years and is in a perfect condition is priceless.

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What makes photography art?

Every photographer has their own creative vision. Every photo tells a story just like a piece of artwork. If I can capture a scene and I can transfer the atmosphere of that scene to an audience, I have succeeded. If I can move the audience with my photographs and trigger their emotions, I think that is art.

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ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

Talk to me about photo gear, your perception, and your approach

Technology goes so fast right now and there is still the big Nikon / Canon which-one-is-better “war” going on. I don’t think that there are any bad cameras anymore. It’s still the photographer that needs to make the photo and it really doesn’t make that much of a difference with what brand you use. I am very happy with my Nikon D800,  but if i did not have all the Nikon lenses I could just as well have taken the Canon 5D Mark III. I truly believe that mirrorless cameras will have the future though. The flipping mirror is from the 20th century and it is time to move beyond that. The mirrorless camera already has a lot of advantages.  Look at the FPS rate for example. Already they shoot more than 50 frames a second and the whole thing fits in your pocket. In a few years they will have larger sensors and the mirrorless camera will be mainstream. In 10 years we will buy a bulky retro DSLR on ebay to put on display.

 Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?

I have been photographing since I was a kid. Fascinated by the shots of the World Press photo and National Geographic photographers like James Standfield. I wanted to be like them.  When I got my first camera I tried many different directions like concerts, landscape, portraits etc. Many years later i discovered urbex photographty and nothing appealed to me more as that. Trey Ratcliff introduced me to HDR and when I discovered the combination of urban exploring and HDR by the works of Andre Govia, I was hooked. Even today there are a lot of photographers that inspire me. Lee Jeffries for example is a master in black and white portraits. No one can transfer the emotion and pain of a person as well as he can.

ChaseJarvis_EmergingTalent_NikiFeijen_AmyRollo

 What makes a good photographer?

I don’t think you can define “good photographer”. What is extremely good for one person can be the exact opposite for somebody else. It’s the same thing as Art.

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Check out more of Niki’s work on his website and follow him on Facebook.

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